The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood
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I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Mother by Jessica Feder-Birnbaum

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I did eight loads of laundry. I paid the bills. I cleaned the house. I filled out medical forms. My hair was pulled up in a haphazard top knot. My outfit consisted of waterproof track pants and a thermal shirt. I hadn’t brushed my teeth – my definition of being a “good” Mom.

My ninth grade son called to say he was bringing two friends home to play Wii. Could they stay for Friday night dinner? I defrosted hamburgers from the freezer. My seventh grade daughter said that she’d be taking the subway to get to a downtown slumber party. This was not just any old sleepover – but a spa themed pre-bar mitzvah slumber party with facials and manicures and where all the girls get dressed up together the next morning.

 “No, you are absolutely not taking the subway at night without adult supervision. I’ll drive you,” I said.

She answered, “Well, you’ll have to pick up my friends too.”

They lived in Waterside Plaza which was not at all convenient to the West Village where the girls needed to go.

“Can your friends meet us here?” I asked.

“No. They’re doing their hair. We’ll have to get them.” I agreed. My daughter and I didn’t get along. We used to have one of those relationships where she would tell me everything. Not anymore.

We went to get her friends. My daughter got out of the front seat, and climbed into the back. She and her friends were these beautiful popular girls. The kind they call queen bees. I wondered how I produced such a daughter. They whispered and giggled. I couldn’t hear a word they said. I turned on Z-100. I sang along to a Beyonce song.  They burst out laughing. My stomach was in knots. I attempted to cross Seventeenth Street as I did on the mornings when I car pooled my daughter to school. We were stuck in a gridlock.

My daughter snapped. “Mom, how can you be so stupid? We’re going to be late. Thanks a lot.”

 I did my best to remain calm.

“This is the way I go in the mornings. I didn’t anticipate Friday night traffic. We’ll get there soon.”

“B’s Mom would know how to go. She’s a much better driver than you.”

 My daughter wished that B’s mom was her Mom. B’s Mom had a cool job in the garment center and she didn’t wear sweatpants.

We were three blocks away from W’s apartment and we were still stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.

“We’ll get out here, and walk. We’re close enough,” said my daughter.

It was dark. A group of guys stood in front of a bar. These girls were still babies.

“No.” I insisted on dropping them off in front of W’s building.

My daughter screamed. “You are such an idiot!!”

 I pulled up. “You need to apologize.”

She said. “No way,” Her friends stared.

Then I said, “If you don’t apologize. You can’t go to the slumber party.”

 “You can’t stop me,” she said.

 “Oh yes I can. I have W’s Dad’s cell phone number and I will call him and tell him you’ve been misbehaving.”

“You would never do that,” she said.

 I told her friends to go on ahead, that my daughter and I needed to speak alone. They thanked me politely and looked helplessly at my daughter.

 “All you need to do is say you’re sorry. You were really out of line.”

“No. I’m not apologizing. You’re a terrible driver. And that’s not my fault.”

 I turned on the ignition. “We’re going home.”

 My daughter burst into tears. “I hate you!!”

“That’s too bad. I’m not your friend. I’m your mother”.

 I vowed I would never say those words. My daughter kicked the back of my seat. I grabbed the steering wheel and pulled over.

 “Look, you could get us both killed.” I said.

 “I don’t care,” she sobbed. My heart was breaking. But enough was enough. The car ride home felt like forever.

We entered our building. The doorman raised his eye brows. My daughter didn’t wait for the elevator. She ran up the stairs. I forgot about my son’s friends. With everyone waiting, I raced to cut salad, grill burgers, and microwave green beans. I set two extra places at the table, and lit the candles for Friday night dinner. We said prayers. I put out the food. My husband carried the conversation. My daughter was grim. I wanted to hug her. But I couldn’t.

Then I remembered the woman I used to despise – the one who wouldn’t allow me to talk back, wear blue eye shadow in junior high, or even think about buying six inch platform sandals.  This woman wasn’t my friend, the almighty despised one. She was my mother. I wanted to call her. I wanted to tell her that she really hadn’t ruined my life. I needed to tell her that I finally understood. But I didn’t.


Jessica Feder-Birnbaum is a playwright, author and teaching artist. Her work has appeared on the New York stage, in print and the media. Jessica is proud to serve on Mamapalooza.

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